Frank Speaking: from Suvla to Schweidnitz
Edited by Carole Hope
Published by H&K Publishing 2021
Hardback ISBN 978 1 8383711 0 4
316 pages plus bibliography and index.
Reviewed by Chris Baker.
I confess to having known the author for several years but memory tells me that I have possibly only actually met her once, although that was as a fellow traveller on a memorable trip to Gallipoli led by Peter Hart. That experience is enough to create a lasting bond, the sort that only sweating in a minibus can create! Carole kindly send me a copy of her new book “Frank Speaking”, which is her second after a superb biography of Father William Doyle that she published a few years ago.
This is another fine piece of work. It is based on a memoir written by Frank Morrow Laird, who served first in the ranks and later as a commissioned officer of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. Frank’s memoir is incomplete, for he died in 1925 while it was still in progress. He passed away far too young at the age of 45.
Carole’s approach was to effectively reproduce the memoir in facsimile, even down to using the same typeface and chapter numbers and titles. She breaks it down into relatively short sections, which are then exanded by the addition of relevant quotations from other authors and by her own additional explanatory notes. The gap in Frank’s memoir, from just after the Battle of Messines in June 1917 to just before the German offensive of March 1918, is well covered by reference to the battalion’s war diary and other related material. There are many useful footnotes and references throughout. I have one or two minor quibbles with some technical detail but they of little overall importance, and generally I think this is going to be a useful work of reference.
“Frank Speaking” also makes for a most interesting read. He comes across as a well balanced, likeable man and a good observer of events. Inevitably, Frank was writing some time afterwards and there is always in such a circumstance the possibility of mis-remembering or even embellishment of the story. I got no sense of that and believed his tale to be objective and accurate. Where an editor’s observations or corrections need to be added, they are, but in no instance is there anything apparently terribly off-beam in his memoir.
Frank Laird was not a young man when war came, for he was born in County Dublin in late 1879. Educated at Trinity College in the city, he had since been a teacher and was by 1914 a clerk working for the Dublin Metropolitan Police court. After a period with the Officer Training Corps of his old university, he underwent surgery to remove varicose veins and after that he enlisted into the ranks of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers in December 1914. Frank’s pride in his time with “D” Company of the regiment’s 7th (Service) Battalion is evident. He served with the same unit through its training in Ireland and England, and went with it to land at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, in August 1915. His description of the fighting for Chocolate Hill in the first few days is sobering indeed. He was wounded in the shoulder, broke three ribs (although he did not know that to be fact for some time), and was not brought in for medical treatment for quite a while. Frank was returned home and spent time at the 1st Southern General Hospital at Birmingham before returning to Ireland, where he then married. He was with the 10th (Service) Battalion at the Royal Barracks in Dblin when the nationalist rebellion took place in the city in April 1916.
In November 1916 Frank was commissioned and in January 1917 he joined the 8th (Service) Battalion on the Western Front. He was wounded again, this time by shrapnel to the head, during the fighting for Langemarck in August 1917. After evacuation and treatment in London, he returned to France in February 1918 and was sent to the 20th Entrenching Battalion. Linking up with his old regiment after a few days of retreat in the face of the German offensive of late March 1918, he was wounded and taken priosner on 27 March. His memoir covers well the months of capvity at Ratstatt and Schweidnitz. His memoir mentions many comrades and commanding officers throughout, and will be of great value to anyone with an interest in his units or locations.
The book is published by Carole in conjunction with Lyndsay Knight, who produced the small number of clear maps and, I believe, the dust jacket. Profits from sales are to be split betwen the editor, the Great War Group and Great War Huts.
At time of writing, the only way to buy “Frank speaking” is direct from the author. Please email the following address, replacing my red AT and the spaces with @.
carole.s.hope AT btinternet.com